[Content note: fat-shaming, CICO talk, ableism.]
Dear Fat-Haters at my University,
Thank you so much for your latest missive. I can't tell you how excited I am that you've launched a new program to deal with me and my fat body, in the guise of "fitness."
It was fascinating to learn that your concern comes from the CDC statistics on obesity and the "economic effects" of obesity. I mean, at least you were honest; you didn't pretend that this was really about making my life better. It's all about the "economic effects."
(Presumably, we fatties [rather than the state legislature] are responsible for the continuing decline in public university funding. Wow! How did we do that? I have no idea, but if you have any thoughts on how we might re-focus our amazing ability to suck dollars down like the cheeseburgers you think we live on, let me know. I'd much rather use my FATSUCK! economic power to, say, de-fund the Republican Party.)
But anyway! Since you're being honest about why you want to get rid of me, let me be honest with you. I don't think that issuing pedometers to teams of walkers (who will also learn yoga, meditation, and nutrition facts) is going to work. You see, the causes of obesity are somewhat more complex than you seem to think. Many of us fatties are already exercising and burning quite a few calories. Since I currently run 3-4 times a week, and do heavy outside work, walk, dance, or weightlift on most other days, I wonder if you're thinking that switching over to just walking is actually going to make me thinner.
What about your participants with genuinely disordered eating or depression? Do you really think that your program is better than, say, counseling? Or people with thyroid disease or other conditions affecting their weight? Is your magical pedometer going to fix a non-functioning thryoid? Because, frankly, fat-shaming is a barrier to all kinds of medical treatment. If you force people to "prove" they're a "good fatty" before seeing their doctors, are you really contributing their health? Survey says: NO.
And are those people stuck in food deserts, or residing in unsafe neighborhoods, or living with physical disabilities, magically going to have access to better food and safe walking conditions and functional hips/knees/legs/etc. simply because you issued them a pedometer? THIS PEDOMETER IS TRULY MADE OF MAGIC! (And gnome kisses and unicorn farts, natch.)
And, finally: it's nice and all that you have "group walks around campus" scheduled as an optional part of your activities, but you DO realize that you are launching your program in July in a Southern state where the temperatures at your scheduled walktimes range from 85-90+ degrees Fahrenheit? And a humidity of... well, I don't know the scientific terms, but I'd estimate it at OMFG IS THAT JACQUES COUSTEAU SNORKELING DOWN THE STREET -type levels. Is that supposed to be a sustainable, healthy behavior? I don't think very many of your participants will actually find that invigorating or fun. So much for enjoyable exercise!
(Maybe I'm being overly pessimistic. But maybe I'm just not an amphibian!)
I could add a lot of other examples, but the bottom line is: sustained, long-term weight loss is a lot less commmon than you seem to think. I think you're setting people up to fail in this goal of weight-loss, and then to feel even worse about themselves thanks to fat-shaming. And that's a shame.
It's a shame, because you COULD have offered walking teams and nutrition advice and yoga and meditation practice and group walks in a different way. You could have been HAES-friendly and put this out there as an opportunity for anybody to reach a variety of fitness or health or lifestyle goals. After all, plenty of thin AND fat AND in-between people might want encouragement in walking, or information about nutrition, or meditation, or wev. And some people might find part of your program practical, but not all of it. For example, a person with mobility issues might find your walking program difficult or impossible, but welcome the chance to learn about stress reduction and meditation.
But that would have involved respecting that we are individuals who are experts on our own experiences.
By the way, I especially enjoyed the irony of this email coming right after the one about increasing "diversity and inclusion" on campus. You might have considered how your email would read to fat people as a part of that effort. You might have considered, too, the intersectional ways that fat-shaming is tied up with racism, sexism, and discrimination against people with disabilities and chronic disease, to name only a few issues. But no, thanks for letting us know that those systemic problems can be easily overcome by individual effort, if we will only do chin-ups with our BOOTSTRAPS!
In short, I can't think of anything that feels less "healthy and fit" than being shamed for my fat body, condescended to as if I am lazy and ignorant about my own life, and being pressured to join walks under conditions that both my veterinarian and physician say are not a great idea. "Not fit for (hu)man nor beast," as my mother used to say.
But it's good to know what kind of treatment is just fine for fatties.